A Single Tweet…and the ‘Putty Tat’ May Get Ya!

On May 9, 2014 by Alix R. Rubin, Esq.

Even Tweety Bird knows to stop tweeting when it thinks it sees a “Putty Tat.”  So if you want to keep your job, your professional reputation, or your settlement check, learn from these cautionary tales.

Before boarding a plane to South Africa, public relations executive Justine Sacco tweeted:

Going to Africa.  Hope I don’t get AIDS.  Just kidding.  I’m white!

Her tweet went viral while she was in the air.  Although Sacco used her personal Twitter account, her profile listed the name of her employer, a large media company.  Despite her later online apology, Sacco’s employer fired her the next day.

You’d think a public relations professional would know better than to create her own PR nightmare.

But should a former prep school headmaster know not to tell his college-age daughter about his settlement with the school, because she might post the information on Facebook?

Thanks to his daughter, Patrick Snay had to forfeit $80,000 — the bulk of his settlement payment for age discrimination and retaliation — when she boasted on Facebook:

Mama and Papa Snay won the case against Gulliver.  Gulliver is now
officially paying for my vacation to Europe this summer.  SUCK IT.

The post went out to about 1,200 of Dana Snay’s Facebook friends, many of whom were either current or past Gulliver students.  The Florida court found that Patrick Snay violated the confidentiality clause of the agreement and therefore could not collect the $80,000.

In a FindLaw survey conducted last year, 29 percent of young adults were concerned that their social media posts would cause them to lose their jobs, and 21 percent said they had removed posts because of this concern.  However, “delete” does not always mean the information is completely removed from the Internet.

Just because you’re a yellow bird doesn’t mean you may tweet to your heart’s content at work on company time and equipment, or anywhere if your tweets (or other online posts) consist of:

  • racial, ethnic or sexual slurs toward other employees;
  • defamatory comments about the company, other employees or clients;
  • personal gripes that violate harassment, discrimination or non-disparagement policies;
  • company confidential information; or
  • illegal activity.

However, particularly if you’re not a manager, you may have online discussions with your co-workers about your compensation and other terms and conditions of employment.  So if you think your boss is a jerk or you’re underpaid, your employer should not discipline you for tweeting about it, unless you’re doing so on company time.

But you won’t win any popularity contests with management.

So, before sending that tweet:

  1. Check your company’s social media policy.  If your company doesn’t have one, you may want to suggest it create one, so everyone is clear about the dos and don’ts.
  2. Take a deep breath.  Carefully review and edit your post before firing it off.  Consider any unintended consequences and the fact that information may live forever on the Internet.
  3. Ask yourself, “What would my mother say?”  If she would disapprove, that’s a good enough reason not to post.

Happy Mother’s Day!

For more advice on how to avoid trouble at work on social media, click here.


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